Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's health minister Jim Wells brands people of west Belfast as lawbreaking skinheads

'I was not trying to denigrate the people of west Belfast in any way'

English unions last night urged Stormont Health Minister Jim Wells to make the same offer to NHS staff in Northern Ireland
English unions last night urged Stormont Health Minister Jim Wells to make the same offer to NHS staff in Northern Ireland
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

Health Minister Jim Wells has been criticised after branding west Belfast people as lawbreaking skinheads.

The DUP minister suggested that the smoking ban was the only rule that some had obeyed in their life.

He referred to west Belfast men as being six-foot tall, with skinheads, tattoos and earrings.

The comments came during an appearance before the Assembly's health committee.

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said Mr Wells had negatively stereotyped the people of the area and should say sorry for his remarks.

Mr Maskey said yesterday: "These comments are absolutely shocking and must be withdrawn immediately.

"Jim Wells has painted the people of west Belfast in a totally negative light with this outrageous stereotype.

"He also characterised people in west Belfast as lawbreakers. He needs to publicly apologise for these grossly offensive remarks."

Mr Wells made the comments when he appeared before the committee last Wednesday, however, they only came to light when a transcript of the meeting was posted on the Assembly's website yesterday.

He was referring to the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007.

Mr Wells said: "The classic example is - I have said this before in the Assembly - if you go to a hard-bitten social club in west Belfast tonight, you will see six-foot tall men with skinhead haircuts, tattoos and earrings standing outside in the rain smoking, and this is probably the only law that they have obeyed in their life.

"Why? Because they respect the law that says you smoke outside in the street rather than in a pub or a restaurant. Adherence to this has been almost 100%."

Committee chairperson Maeve McLaughlin warned Mr Wells he was running the risk of stereotyping every person in west Belfast.

Mr Wells replied: "Only those standing outside drinking clubs at midnight."

Later he said he meant the phrase "rather facetiously".

"My comment would apply to any working, Rangers or Celtic pub or loyalist club anywhere in Northern Ireland. I was not particularly homing in on west Belfast," he added.

"I was trying to make the point that the adherence of every community in Northern Ireland to the smoking ban has been almost 100%, and that is to be applauded.

"I was not trying to denigrate the people of west Belfast in any way."

However, Mr Maskey accused Mr Wells of being disparaging to working class people.

"These remarks highlight Jim Wells' prejudices, not only against people in west Belfast, but against working class communities everywhere," he added.

Mr Wells was contacted for comment but did not respond.

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